Westport at a crossroads

De Facto

PROBLEMS NEED TO BE TACKLED The renowned charm of Westport was created by its people. That is now being aggressively threatened by the lure of quick cash. Pic: Amayo Photography

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

For our family reunion one group of Yanks was quoted €5,000 to rent a house in Westport for two weeks, alongside €7,000 for an automatic seven-seater for three weeks. Put the flight prices on top on that and it soon adds up!
Aer Lingus flights to Dublin were way cheaper than into Shannon. With the ongoing mess in Dublin Airport one wonders why someone didn’t add two and two and make Shannon a more viable option!
Was someone taking advantage? These pages have given many column inches to people with concerns over the number of dedicated Airbnb premises in Westport. (This is neither the fault of the Airbnb company, which actively challenges the Government to implement legislation to protect residential housing stock, nor people who share rooms in their homes for Airbnb).
Among the issues is the snapping up of property in Westport by ‘rich’ people, making even the bottom rung of the property another few steps higher for many local young couples starting out. The bigger issue is the community destruction that too many dedicated Airbnb properties cause. While many rich ‘out-of-towners’ and some locals see Westport as an ideal place to make a buck, the legacy of their business decisions is slowly destroying the fabric of local community, all that Westport people hold dear.
There is no price on a sense of community. It is priceless. How do we value a sense of local community? Stripping local communities of properties to be used exclusively for Airbnb is creating a recipe for community disaster. If it continues Westport will become a playground for the rich.
Surveys of visitors to Westport have highlighted the importance of meeting and interacting with local people. That will not be possible if the present trend continues. While other areas in the country have various rental controls, the same needs to be applied in other towns and villages. We have already come through a badly thought-out Seaside Resort Scheme, which again favoured people with money rather than local couples trying to buy their first homes.

Urgently required controls
Controls around the use of Airbnb in places like Westport are urgently required. We cannot allow the essence of local communities to be subsumed for the sake of a euro or two. The lack of a town council in Westport only adds to this debacle. Placing the issue on the agenda of the local area county council meetings can cause needless frustration because the crux of the problem does not affect every councillor. The issues of Westport need not necessarily equate with the concerns of councillors in Achill or Belmullet, as we all know too well.
The charm of Westport was created by its people – locals, business people, employees, politicians and visitors working together, creating a successful life balance. That is now being threatened by the lure of quick cash.   
Another ‘gouge’ is the main energy companies’ combined profits of almost $100 billion in the first quarter of this year. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “It is immoral for oil and gas companies to be making record profits from this energy crisis on the back of the poorest people and communities and at a massive cost to the climate.” He urged governments to tax these windfalls to support people in most need.
Irish exchequer public finances recorded a surplus of €5 billion at the end of July. (There was a deficit of €5.7 billion at the end of July 2021!) The taxpayer paid higher tax returns and more VAT on items like fuel – the dearer the fuel the more money for the Government! Is this a form of gouging?
When does quality of life takes precedence or even become as important as making money? What will we value in Westport in twenty years? Will we have streets of dedicated Airbnb properties? Will there be many Westport people – Covies? Will the shops be ‘high street’ like other towns, owned by large companies or multi-nationals?
These issues are for local residents and business people to chew on. At the end of the day, we get what we choose. It’s a great little country! Westport is the best place to live! Watch this space.